The following is a selection by our editors of significant weekly developments in Syria. Depending on events, each issue will include anywhere from four to eight briefs. This series is produced in both Arabic and English in partnership between Salon Syria and Jadaliyya. Suggestions and blurbs may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Russia Distributes the Roles… in the Self-administration!
27 October 2019
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Sunday it had agreed to withdraw more than thirty kilometers from the Turkish border, an announcement welcomed by Damascus which said Turkey should now end its “aggression” in northeast Syria. Turkey launched its cross-border offensive on 9 October targeting the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northeast Syria after President Donald Trump pulled US troops out of the area.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin then agreed on 22 October that Syrian border guards and Russian military police would clear the border area up to thirty kilometers into Syria of YPG fighters over a six-day period that ends Tuesday.
The Russian ministry of defense said on Friday that around three hundred more military police and more than twenty armored vehicles were sent to Syria under an accord between Ankara and Moscow that has halted Turkey’s military incursion into northeast Syria.
Eliminating al-Baghdadi… in Syria!
27 October 2019
President Donald Trump said on Sunday that fugitive ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died in a raid by US special forces in northwest Syria, describing it as a great victory against the radical organization.
Al-Baghdadi killed himself by detonating a suicide vest after fleeing into a dead-end tunnel, Trump said in a televised address from the White House. He was positively identified by DNA tests fifteen minutes later, the president said.
Trump said “many” of al-Baghdadi’s people were killed in the raid and added that in blowing himself up, Baghdadi also killed three of his children. US forces suffered no personnel losses, he said. He also thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq for their support.
Hours later, the Syrian Kurdish YPG said Islamic State spokesman Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir, described as Baghdadi’s right-hand man, had also been killed in a separate joint raid by Kurdish-led and US forces in northern Syria.
Turkey said it was proud to have helped “bring a notorious terrorist to justice”, but Russia’s response was skeptical, with the defense ministry in Moscow saying that it had no reliable information on the US raid.
SDF Withdraws from Ras al-Ain
21 October 2019
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Sunday said they had withdrawn from the border town of Ras al-Ain under a US-brokered ceasefire deal, but a spokesman for Turkish-backed Syrian rebels said the withdrawal was not yet complete. Ras al-Ain is one of two towns on the Turkish-Syrian border that have been the main targets of Turkey’s offensive to push back Kurdish fighters and create a “safe zone” inside Syria that is more than thirty kilometers deep.
23, 26 October 2019
Former prosecutor and UN investigator Carla del Ponte said in an interview published on Saturday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should be investigated and indicted for war crimes over his country’s military incursion in Syria. “For Erdogan to be able to invade Syrian territory to destroy the Kurds is unbelievable,” said del Ponte. “An investigation should be opened into him and he should be charged with war crimes,” she added.
Amnesty International said in a report published on Friday that Turkey is forcibly sending Syrian refugees to an area of Syria near the border where it aims to set up a “safe zone” even though the conflict there has not ended.
Human Rights Watch said in a separate report Friday that authorities had arbitrarily detained and deported dozens of Syrians to northern Syria between January and September.
In a related context, President Donald Trump’s special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey said on Wednesday that US forces had seen evidence of war crimes during Turkey’s offensive against the Kurds in Syria. “We haven’t seen widespread evidence of ethnic cleansing,” Jeffrey said during his testimony in congress, but there are reports of “several incidents which we consider war crimes.”
Putin Explains to al-Assad
22 October 2019
The Kremlin said on Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin explained to his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad by phone the results of his talks with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Putin, after lengthy talks with Erdogan, highlighted in the phone call with al-Assad that restoring Syria’s territorial integrity was the main task.
Al-Assad thanked Putin and “expressed his full support for the results of the work, as well as the readiness of the Syrian border guards, together with the Russian military police, to reach the Syrian-Turkish border,” the Kremlin said.
Syrian President Bashar al Assad on Tuesday denounced Turkey’s leader as “a thief… who stole factories, wheat, and oil… and is now stealing our land,” for attacking the northeast of Syria and reiterated a pledge to retake all areas lost to Damascus in years of civil war.
Al-Assad made the remarks as he made a rare visit to a frontline of Syria’s conflict, touring an area in war-torn northwestern Idlib governorate close to the last major bastion of Turkey-backed rebel forces.
Covert Turkish-Syrian Contacts
21 October 2019
Turkey is holding covert contacts with Syria’s government to avert direct conflict in northeast Syria where both sides have deployed their armies, Turkish officials say, despite Ankara’s long-standing hostility to President Bashar al-Assad.
Warily, the two sides have set up channels of communication, both direct military and intelligence contacts and indirect messages through Russia, to reduce the risk of confrontation, three Turkish officials said.
The Constitutional Committee and the First Meeting
24 October 2019
UN Special Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen said on Thursday that the ceasefire in northeast Syria seems to be holding “by and large”, as major powers gather in Geneva ahead of the first meeting of Syria’s Constitutional Committee next week.
Pedersen said that envoys from seven Arab and Western states backing the opposition, known as the “small group”, which includes the United States, are due to meet in the Swiss city on Friday. Senior officials from the so-called Astana three – Russia, Iran, and Turkey – were expected in coming days.
The major powers would not participate directly in the “Syrian-owned, Syrian-led” constitutional effort, or the opening public ceremony, but they supported the process, he said.
Convening the Constitutional Committee, the first tangible progress since the Norwegian diplomat took up the UN job in January, is seen as key to paving the way for political reforms and new elections in the country wracked by eight years of war that have killed hundreds of thousands and forced millions to flee.
25, 26 October 2019
Russia’s defense ministry on Saturday attacked US plans to maintain and boost the US military presence in eastern Syria as “international state banditry” motivated by a desire to protect oil smugglers and not by real security concerns. US troops and private security companies in eastern Syria are protecting oil smugglers who make more than thirty million dollars a month, the statement said.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Friday Washington would send armored vehicles and troops to the Syrian oil fields in order to prevent them from falling into the hands of ISIS militants. His comments came after President Donald Trump earlier this month pulled some one thousand US military personnel out of northeast Syria, a move that prompted Turkey to launch a cross-border incursion targeting the Kurdish YPG, a former US ally against ISIS.